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Gift giving for needy kids had ups, downs

The work of Santa's helpers in Hernando County this year was intense and infused with jollity — as well as some disappointments — as they solicited gifts for needy children.

The most renowned and successful drive was Toys for Tots, sponsored by Marine Corps League Spring Hill Detachment 708. With the giving season coinciding with the local and nationwide economic slide, organizers were concerned.

But Christmas week donations pushed the collection into the plus column.

"They just kept pouring in from churches and other organizations," said Bob Ross, who organizes the drive with his wife, Dot, for the league. "We had enough so there was no problem with meeting our needs. We were very fortunate."

Those needs amounted to 1,250 families with 3,200 children. While the total number exceeded requests from last year, Ross said it was due to applications from larger families.

The Christmas Angel Program of Hernando County, which targets foster children who are referred from schools and the state Department of Children and Family Services, was scrambling early this week.

"Before we're done, we'll get something for everyone," promised Bill Scarff, who operates the program with his wife, Mary.

Of 459 requests hanging on trees around the county, they had filled the wishes of 158 children by Monday.

The Family YMCA of Hernando County faced similar difficulty.

Even though there are fewer children in Y programs this year, "we had more requests (for holiday assistance) than last year, at 120," said quality assurance director Sue Hampton.

"We had trees (bearing requests) in the schools where we have programs," Hampton said. But the savior was the German-American Club. "They brought in hundreds of gifts," she said.

Of more than 600 children in the register of Kids Central, which has a contract with the Department of Children and Families to provide services in Hernando, Citrus, Lake, Marion and Sumter counties, some will have Christmas without gifts, lamented Lynn Routh, public relations officer.

"Despite hard times, people are still being generous," she said. "More people are asking."

Times were even tougher for two groups hoping to bring cheer to south Brooksville.

"This year, we've been hit harder than ever," said Frankie Burnett, who has organized a gift drive for 27 years. Up from the normal 120 applications for assistance — toys, teen wishes, gift baskets of food — the number this year soared to some 300.

"No ma'am, we didn't meet the quota," Burnett said. "We used to get 50 bicycles. This year we got three, and one of them was used."

Burnett knows how tough times are. The former Brooksville City Council member used to dip into his own pocket for up to $1,000 to pay for Christmas gifts. "But I'm not able to do it this year," he said.

Dan Strength, pastor of River of Life Church in Brooksville, also expressed disappointment, though he put some of the blame on himself.

"It was tough," he said. "We could have used 200 more (gifts). We gave out about 50. Very few were donated. We had a yard sale and raised money to buy more.

"After registration closed, there were more than 100 families (waiting).

"We didn't start soon enough," Strength said. "The competition was so great."

Nonetheless, he said, "Anything helping one child is a success."

Beth Gray can be contacted at

Gift giving for needy kids had ups, downs 12/24/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 24, 2008 6:18pm]
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